Seminary Autobiography #1

•February 12, 2009 • 5 Comments

Autobiography – Faith Statement
Steven Biedermann

My present relationship to the church is a healthy one in which we both benefit. Being a college student I don’t live in the same place all year, thus I have more then one church that I attend. When I am with my parents I go to where my dad is a pastor at HTLC, a ELCA Lutheran church in Ankeny. While at school I have attended chapel on campus, service at St. Pauls Lutheran in Waverly and served as a youth director for Zion Lutheran in Readlyn. It is hard for me at this point in my life to point to any one church as my home congregation however, this situation has given me opportunities for growth that I would not have found with a single home church. I find my relations with all my home churches to be mutually beneficial and I am drawn to the unique community of believers at each location. I think all churches have certain obligations to social justice and acts of service as a means of striving to accomplish the great commission. For the most part, churches that I have been a part of have done a good job of this, but I still think we as Lutherans are hesitant on how to share what we believe with others. We are hesitant because we fear coming across as judgmental or forceful. We are called to be bold and faithful witnesses, myself included.

I feel like I am a strong candidate for church leadership. Many of my spiritual gifts lend toward a career in the helping profession. I feel that being a pastor is a particular niche that God is calling me to fill and is equipping me for the role. I feel that I am equipped to encourage people in their faith journey for several reasons. I am a good listener and I enjoy listening largely because I am a patient person. One of the highest compliments one could give me is to tell me that I am a patient person. I feel strong leaders are ones who know when to listen and when to speak. It seems that when people see they are being really listened to it gives them a sense of self-worth. It is my patience which breeds kindness–understanding of the worst of people, of trying to feel their pain. I feel called to help people by being a model of understanding and forgiveness, but also by being honest in my brokenness and doubt. I enjoy liturgy, tradition, music and the spirit of worship. If there were one area of limitation in my journey of ministry it would be my introverted-ness. I am not painstakingly shy, rather being around people does not energize me. I enjoying spending quality time with people but I realize I need time for solitude to reflect and gather myself.

Luther Seminary seems like an excellent place for me to discover my calling, become equipped to serve God and enter into the world of ministry. Like the Luther Seminary website says, “God could use someone like [me]”. I know God could use someone like me and Luther seems like a good place to figure out the details. You have an impressive faculty and course selection to guide me down academic avenues of interest. You also have a nurturing faith community that I hope will both challenge and nurture my heart in Christ. I have been brought up as an ELCA Lutheran and I am strongly connected with their tradition and beliefs, so it makes sense that I would go to an ELCA College and seminary to prepare for ministry in the Lutheran church. I would like to stay near the Midwest for seminary so I can still visit my family and friends in this part of the country, but post seminary I would be willing to travel anywhere I feel God is calling me.

I know I want to be a pastor; the exact details and emphasis thereof will hopefully be explored in seminary and my early career. I do not yet know if God is calling me to urban ministry or rural ministry, assistant pastor or missionary, etc. These are callings I am already prayerfully considering, and hopefully seminary will help in the process. I am looking forward to being in community with people from a variety of experiences in the pastoral field. This will allow me to get a sense of what different professions in ministry are like so I can narrow down my own calling. I do know that I want my future church to be a hospital for sinners. I would like for their mission to reflect the mission of the early church in the great commission. I would encourage whatever faith community I am in to find their identity in relation to the narrative of scripture.

I believe Jesus Christ (the word, the way and the light) is the Son of God and has died to forgive the sins of humanity. I believe in the Holy Spirit as counselor and great advocate for the Christian community. These three, God, God’s son and the Holy Spirit, are revealed in the words of the Bible. For me, the Bible is the Word of God, to be interpreted in light of its historical context and the Church’s teaching. The historical context of the Bible should be read in contrast to our own context in a continuing dialogue. This dialogue is shaped by each generation by the faith of believers of the past. Each generation is asked to define God in their lives, using scripture, faith (heart), Religion (hands) and Theology (head).

I agree with Paul Tillich, who defines faith as, “that in which we place our ultimate trust.” For where your treasure is there your heart will be also. I also agree with the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Although I have never seen God, I have seen God working in the hearts of those who are to God’s self.  Faith is personal, but transcends the self. It is based on hope and can be both possession and journey. Faith for me is like a work of music. There is comfort in the refrain of music, but much of the beauty can come from variation.

For me religion is the structure of community based on belief. I think a lot of times religion can be as simple as the “human movement toward God” (Barth). Religion is a means for us as a community of believers to express faith in the world. It is the means by which we humans, imagine, live and act our ultimate meaning. I think individual spirituality is a wonderful idea, but it falls short of coming together as a community of believers to support others, and ourselves with the love of Christ.

For better or for worse theology is the reason behind religion. Literally it is the study of the character of God. Theology is important to faith and religion, as it begs the two to define themselves. For me theology is about asking the right questions. I enjoy studying theology, because I feel doing so helps me understand the convictions of my own faith, religion and opinions of God. In doing so I am then able to present God in a way that is applicable to the hearts and minds of those who are in my life.

Given my history, most people would assume I would become a pastor. I come from a long line of German pastors all named Eric Wilhelm (William) Biedermann. Even at a very young age, members of our congregation would ask me if I wanted to grow up to be like my dad. I would normally tell them that I wanted to be an inventor/artist/professional guitar player, but that being a pastor wasn’t entirely out of the question. So for me discerning the call to ministry began at a very young age, even if it was not an entirely conscious one. I was never reluctant about becoming a religion major headed to seminary, but it definitely required some discernment along the way.

I was born near LaCross, Wisconsin in 1986. My dad was a pastor of a two-point congregation there. As a baby and toddler my mother would take me to either South Prairie Lutheran or Northwest Prairie Lutheran, depending on the Sunday. I was baptized at the latter when I was barely a month old. To this day when people ask when I accepted Jesus Christ into my life and heart, I point them to the date of my baptism. Just as I don’t remember my baptism, just so I am not able to remember a time in my life where choosing Jesus into my life was a conscious decision. Jesus chose me and marked me with the water of his new covenant. Throughout my life, I have had continuing opportunities to choose Jesus on my journey. Each one of these subsequent choices on my behalf began with one on God’s behalf. To this day I am still responding to that initial choice of baptism. Since the time of my baptism the renewing waters have repeatedly washed away my sin, saved me and introduced me as a member of the body of Christ. For my entire life, the waters of my baptism will continue to be a special means of God’s grace by which He gives faith, forgiveness and salvation.

I grew up going to Sunday school in Marshfield, Wisconsin. I read my children’s Bible and loved going to our summer vacation Bible school program. I learned about Noah and the flood, Abraham and Issac, David and Goliath and the woman at the well from brightly illustrated books. Sunday school teachers and upbeat songs accompanied by guitar got me excited about the stories of scripture. God seemed like a lot of fun when I was a kid. I believed like a child and lived like a child and had a blast practically living in church as a pastor’s kid. I think those positive memories of my faith as a child are what inspired me to be a camp counselor in my college years. I wanted to share with children the joyful faith I had as a child.

Middle school in Cedar Falls, IA was a very testing time for my faith. I learned a lot of facts about the Bible through confirmation, but, like many middle school tweens, God felt distant and not applicable to my life. My moral ideals and commitment to non-violence made me a target with little to no friends. Although God felt distant, I prayed more during that time more then I had prayed in my entire life. For the first time in my life, I experienced what it was like to be depressed and it is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Through help from my middle school guidance counselor, I was able to re-evaluate negative thought cycles that prevented me from being vulnerable to God’s purpose for me in my life. I also started to realize aspects of my life I had been taking for granted, namely a loving family. Sounds simple enough now, but it wasn’t. Although I didn’t have the words for it at the time, God was teaching me that doubt is a very big part of faith. From that time on, I feel like I have been able to empathize with people struggling with depression and times when things don’t seem fair. More than anything I want a career where I can help people and Jesus seems like a pretty good way to go about that.

I went to high school in Ankeny, IA. There I learned a lot about service and hard work through my youth group, jobs, extra-curricular activities and schoolwork.  My first and most memorable service trip was to a Native American reservation near Red Lake, MN. We painted houses in the hot sun and watched over kids who didn’t want supervision. I saw the Christian faith shaped by Native American tradition and realized for the first time in my life not everyone’s picture of Jesus needed to look like mine. What matters is that he washed people’s feet. Part of the service program at Red Lake was literally washing other people’s feet, and it was strangely one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. Humble acts of service say so much about the Christian faith.

I feel my faith has undergone a great deal of development in my college years. After a year of trying to be an English major at Wartburg College, I found my interests were drawn more to my religion classes. I fell in love with discussing topics such as source criticism, historical context and different types of language used in the Bible. Religion classmates became my friends and roommates. In our free time, we would pontificate about all sorts of blasphemous things late into the night, testing each other’s knowledge of theology and philosophy without stepping on any toes.

I began to search for outlets in which I could share my faith and help other people with their faith journeys. I ended up becoming a camp counselor at Riverside for the past two summers and working as a youth director/music leader for a church in Readlyn during the year. The community at Riverside was very dedicated to teaching third graders through high school students about Jesus by loving them, giving them a sense of a strong faith community then equipping them to go back out into the world. I think one area that camp really helped me was noticing where other people are at in their faith journey. Once I was able to understand where they are and what they believe, I could then continue spiritual dialogue without talking over them or offending them. Through being a religion major I have acquired a lot of knowledge about the Bible, but Riverside helped teach me organize and apply that knowledge so it could speak to the hearts of a variety of people. It was also a place of constant prayer and devotion for the staff—edging on legalistic, but no place is perfect. My job at Readlyn was a wonderful to experience on site experience of what it might be like to be a pastor some day. I was able to better see how my personality and creative skills fit within a church setting though I was dealing with children. I am not necessarily interested in youth ministry as a career, but I think there are a lot of skills that are transferable between teaching children about God and teaching adults about God. If one can put things simply enough that they can speak to the heart of a child, those same words can turn an adult heart to childish belief. There is the old joke that sometimes the congregation will get more out of the children’s sermon then the adult one, but occasionally there is a grain of truth to that.

Wartburg gave me the opportunity to study abroad in Tanzania during the fall semester of 2008 and I came back a little different. As least I see things differently now. It is striking how much abundance we have! I am still figuring out what the experience means to me. While in Tanzania, I was able to worship with the Massai/Waswahili and see a Lutheran church that is growing exponentially and giving hope and common ground to many. Some things that TZ taught me that are relevant to my faith journey are: being joyful in worship, true hospitality, person is people, humility and living simply. These are things that I feel always knew, but Tanzania brought them into the forefront of my conscious and displayed them in a beautiful way.

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ID 373 Final

•January 31, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Study Abroad in Tanzania Conclusion
One must first understand cultural differences and why they are different from one’s native culture to begin understanding the heart of a new country, people and way of life. While studying abroad in Tanzania I found myself studying the language to better learn the tradition and culture of the people, which lead me to view humanity in a different light. Really the best way to study any culture is to live with the people you are studying. While in Tanzania I got the chance to live and learn about the culture of two distinct people, the Waswahili people, also known as native Tanzanians, and the Massai, an indigenous people in east Africa that are semi-nomadic.
One thing that the Tanzanians and Massai have in common is a fluid concept of time. It is their concept of time that stands as a foundation for their culture. Pastor Hafferman puts it well, “You [Americans] have the watches we [Tanzanians/Massai] have the time”. Time is much less of an obstacle in Tanzania and is never something of which I felt like I had too little. If it weren’t for the school portion I doubt we would have needed watches. The same is true of the Massai. The concept of getting children to school on time is still new and foreign.
When I was in Tanzania I realized something about time in relation to conversation. It is sort of frustrating that we Americans have to force ourselves to actually have conversations with people. It’s not an introvert thing; it is ingrained in us not to “waste people’s time”. In all actuality time is often one of the best things we can give someone. We have the mentality that people including ourselves most likely have somewhere to be, therefore conversations should be held to a minimum. We will even go so far to make excuses for leaving if we feel a conversation has gone on too long, even if we have no place to be. In Tanzania things seem to happen when they happen. If a church service takes five hours, what difference does it make? Does one have someplace better to be? Is there some better source of entertainment somewhere else? A habit I’ve gotten into the last two or three years of college is seriously asking myself, “Where would I rather be right now?” Almost always I don’t have a good answer for that question. Which is a good reminder to remain in the moment and enjoy things in the present time.
One way that Waswahili differ in the way they view and use time is in the process of kusaidia (greeting). When a person from Tanzania greets a friend or neighbor into their home it can be a pretty lengthy procedure. In the U.S. we like to stand inside and talk to the person at the door briefly to see what they want. I think this might be a habit spawned from avoiding vacuum salesmen and Mormons. Tanzanians on the other hand have different greeting habits. When they hear someone call out “Hodi” (the equivalent to knocking) the host will respond with “Karibu” then welcome the guest and invite them to come stay inside the house. Once inside the house they will greet each other ask each other about their news and visit about a variety of topics. The host might even offer the guest tea, milk or a little to eat. After the a while the host will walk the guest not to the door, but all the way to the edge of the property or bus station to make sure they have company for the first part of their journey home. This process is known and kusindikiza and it is something that I really want to try more in the United State (weather permitting). The Waswahili will often greet each other in the morning before heading to work to see if their neighbor needs anything. If the neighbor needs help with something the individual will do their best to help them before leaving for the day. You can see how greeting a neighbor in the morning could make some Tanzanians late for work.
Another product of the Tanzanian view of time is how they design their prison program. The prisons in Tanzania are more rehabilitation programs then places of walled-in confinement. I found it strange that when we visited a prison we entered through a gate, but after that there was no surrounding perimeter. I guess inmates don’t try to run away much for a multitude of reasons. First, prison life is a really good chance for them to become more educated or learn a trade before going back into the world. Second, they would get caught. Inmates don’t have anywhere to go and they would be chased down pretty quickly. Third, once caught the inmates are punished as a group. Fourth, the prison has really nice facilities. Although 17 sleeping mats are crammed into a room, the criminals have bug nets and quilted blankets–likely nicer then they have at home. I am pretty confident that Tanzania has better prison system then the United States. I think sometimes in the US our government views prisons as economically stimulating. It supplies jobs, (construction, guards, janitors, etc.) in the prison system and dirt-cheap laborers. Some would even say slavery in the U.S. wasn’t abolished… it just moved to the prison systems. Prisons were originally designed for inmates to have every opportunity to turn their lives around. There is a reason they are called jail cells, jails were originally related to the monastic system. The monastic concept was that a person could get a better perspective on society by being removed from it for a time. For Tanzanians prison is a time for the inmate to re-evaluate the direction of their life and develop skills they can use when re-entering society. I think the US frequently looses sight of the rehabilitation aspect of prison life.
When a Tanzanian sees someone and wants to initiate a conversation they will ask how their news is and shake their hand. This happens with just about everyone you encounter in Tanzania because they have the time to do so. Tanzanians aren’t very big on public displays of affection so they are rarely a part of the greeting process. Even if a man and woman are married you most likely won’t see them holding hands in public. Kisses and hugs as greetings and goodbyes are almost entirely out of the question. The older Tanzanian generation frowns and shakes their heads when the younger generation imitates western culture by greeting each other with hugs. Tanzanians hugs are an odd phenomenon, from a western Instead of hugging Tanzanians have developed a pretty sweet handshake. The more firm and complex the handshake the more eager the person is to greet you. Young Tanzanians see people hug in movies and have tried to simulate the greeting, but it just comes across as awkward. Chumba demonstrated the Tanzanian hug and it was one of the more awkward things I have seen. It involved shoulder contact and almost looked like one person is trying to tackle the other. For many Tanzanians intimate displays of affection such as hugs are best left for the bedroom.
Despite different views on public displays of affection, there is a tradition of respect for elders here in Tanzania. Often times when a younger individual respects and looks up to an elder they will ask for a blessing. In order to receive a blessing they bow their head and say “shikamo” to the elder. The Elder responds to this action and places their hand on the bowed head and says “marahaba” in response. I really miss this process of blessing. Often when I see professors or people I respect in passing I want to say shikamo to them, and sometimes still do lightly under my breath. This process is used frequently in TZ and is a strong indicator as to how much Tanzanians cherish their elders. As Pr. Hafferman puts it, “We are all to quick old and all to late wise”. Side note: There are no nursing homes in Massai villages.
With this tradition of respect in mind Massai children are free to explore and learn about things in a very hands-on and free manner. I admire the freedom and responsibilities the Massai give their children. Some would view the responsibilities faced by Massai children as forcing them to grow up too soon. Massai children help take care of the younger animals while the adults take care of the older ones. Massai children in big families also help raise and baby-sit each other from a very early age. I believe these early responsibilities help prepare the children for their roles in the future Massai community. The life of the Massai child isn’t all work and no fun. The Massai children are left to explore, bare themselves to the world and interact with life in a way that comes so naturally for children. The difference in Massai children’s freedom and our own is that it is consistent. When they are in church, the Massai children experience the service in whatever way suits them. If they want to stand up front by the pastor–no problem, they aren’t really bothering anybody. If they want to run around, go for it, it just adds to the excitement of the service. If they want to get partly naked, well… they might cool off a little from the breeze. This freedom takes place with an undercurrent of respect for elders deeply rooted in each child’s being.
With such freedom come problems for both adults and children alike. Tanzanians have a unique perspective on their lives in relation to their problems. In Kiswahili you can say Kila watu wana shida — People have problems (shida-shit/problems in my mind). You can also say Shida zina kila watu — Problems have people. In Swahili things may have people. Problems can be in possession of people… even going so far as to consume them. I think being able to flip flop the possessives expresses a unique relationship between people and their surroundings. Which comes first the person or the problem? I think sometimes it is a cycle.
The way most Tanzanians face their problems is through hope of greater things provided to them by religion. In Tanzania culture and religion are inseparable. Tanzanians have hope for themselves, their families and their country because they believe in something greater then themselves. To find the defining characteristic of religion in Tanzania one must first understand the meaning of the Tanzanian smile. I think the smile is best described by a blog entry I wrote while in Tanzania:
To confuse the African smiling face with indifference to disparity or merely ignorance is to rob it of its meaning. They know exactly the problems they face. They want change. But to live your life focused merely on problems and what needs to be changed is to rob yourself from the joy that is living. The African smile is a welcoming one, a social one to signify they understand you. They understand that you are a person and have problems too, which is the best reason to celebrate life now, together.
For most Tanzanians religion is a given, even if an individual does not believe the same things, they still believe in something bigger then themselves that gives them faith despite life’s problems. There is a law in Tanzania that prevents individuals from publicly defaming the religion of another group of people. This law is not necessarily a reaction to religious intolerance, but rather a product of the culture and the way Waswahili people live life. Tanzania is 40% Christian, 40% Muslim and 10% indigenous religion. Normally people would think that such a collection of Christian and Muslims would mean constant religious tension. This however is not the case as demonstrated by the life of Luka the Christian evangelist.
One day our group of study abroad students went to put a cross of of Luka’s brother Solomon’s grave. Both Luka and his brother Solomon grew up in the Islamic tradition, but later decided to become Christian. Luka is now the evangelist and apprentice of Pr. Hafferman. He is now the father of Solomon’s children because he is more financially able to take care of them then other members of the family. Solomon died over forty days before the cross planting of cirrhosis of the liver. Solomon was a sort of “Johnny Appleseed” of this area of Tanzania. He was a talented arborist who planted most of the trees here at LJS. Everywhere we go people point out Solomon’s trees. The trees he planted are as much of a memorial to him as his actual grave. Unfortunately Solomon developed a drinking problem, largely because he was separating from his wife, which eventually took his liver. His actual funeral was done in accordance to Muslim customs followed by forty days of grieving. Luka has actually been hosting a good deal of his family extended family at his house during this period of grieving, which I think has been adding to his stress. After the time of grieving was complete Luka and Pr. Hafermann planned a Christian ceremony to march Solomon’s cross headstone from Solomon’s house to his grave to placing there. The entire event was a wonderful summation of the religious tolerance here in Tanzania. It was a really big deal that the Islamic members of the family were open to going to the grave and placing a cross, singing hymns and praying with us. As I watched members of Luka’s family go through the parts of the service I had a hard time distinguishing the Christians from the Muslims. Everyone bowed and prayed and sang and recited liturgy together. It didn’t mean that the Muslims were giving up part of their religion to participate, nor were the Christians giving up the heart of their religion in having Muslims in attendance. It was a family affair, reflecting an ideal amount of respect humanity as large should take note of. Normally Islamic women don’t visit the grave of dead relatives, but I think it had a really big impact on some of them that through this Christian tradition they were able to get closure by visiting the grave. After the cross planting we went back to Solomon’s house and ate spiced rice and beans. We as white Christians visited with and ate with native Muslims. No one felt awkward or threatened.
I have never seen cries in the psalms truly lived out until I lived at LJS. There was a man named Sagin who is a student here who prays in a unique and powerful way. He was learning Kiswahili to be a missionary for the South Korean Church. Every morning one could literally hear this man yelling his prayers to God. ABBA!!!! ABBA!!!! AAAA!!!! In his culture people yell their prayers from mountains so that they can break through the demons and get to God. He wasn’t close enough to my room for it to be a nuisance, but I could still definitely hear it. Sometimes it is inspirational to hear someone pouring so much of him or herself into prayer. It also opened up a lot of conversation about prayer within our little community. Jodie, a middle-aged woman from the US, went into the brush before supper two days ago to yell prayers with Sagin. She said she was very self-conscious about if she was praying/yelling correctly at first, but then got into it more, and at the end of it felt very sad. The South Korean said the first time someone cries prayers to God they normally feel sad afterwards. I think it is largely a cathartic experience, perhaps drawing sadness to the surface, recognizing it, and then letting it go. Jodie has had plenty of sadness in her life, but seems to be in the process of overcoming it and is now is an overachieving lay person here in Tanzania. Sagin’s call to worship can be compared to the Massai men and their rhythmic grunts and moans or the Muslim call to worship. All three involve a loud statement of the individual’s faith. We should not forget that crying out via music, prayer, sports, etc. has its place and can be healthy. Prayer especially has a way of getting at the heart of the matter and can transform the inward stuff as a shared train of thought with God.
There is one instance while living in Tanzania where I probably should have screamed, but was too shocked/saddened to do so. When I was studying abroad in Tanzania last semester death seemed much more real. There are a whole host of things that lower the life expectancy to forty including AIDS and malnutrition that allows disease to be more deadly. While I was in Tanzania I actually two people on the side of the road recently killed by cars on separate occasions. The first was laying face down with his head still on the road as bicycles and people passing by swerved to avoid the body that no longer held life. Cars were used to shield the second body from oncoming traffic, but as I glanced back after passing the barricade I was able to see his lifeless body. Those are images that will never leave me. It is hard to tell if the deaths were accidental or suicide. Either way I have been praying for the families of the people that have been killed and the motorists and struck them. Although I do not know them I shared a strangely personal moment with them at the scene of their death. During the time that I saw the two men dead at the side of the road I was taking Swahili lessons and learned the word kufa means to die and kufaa means to arrive. I think the two words probably started as the same words in their Bantu origin then grew distinct later in time. I think many Tanzanians view death not as an exit but an arrival, a beautiful way of looking at a normally finite topic.
In the face of death the Massai children represent so much promise for the future of the church in Tanzania. The example that specifically comes to mind is the Massai children’s choirs. Often these choirs will tour other churches providing their amazing spiritual gift of creative song and dance. It is easy to spot a member of the Massai children’s choir by their dress (see below, normally less jewelry). Their music is so energetic, original and inspirational. The age of the young women in each choir is very diverse. A young girl will enter the choir when she is able to stand up and sing and will generally leave sometime after having children. Without fail they are visibly eager to sing and dance to show their interpretation on traditional African melodies meshed with Christian lyrics. Before the service starts the Massai children start singing. Calling the congregation to worship. Often Massai choirs will imitate each other feeding off the creativity of the other. Often times the choir will listen to a song via cassette tape then create their own interpretation of the song. Most songs sung here during morning devotionals, or church service either have melodies from old Lutheran hymns (drinking songs) or stem from traditional Tanzanian call and response. The Massai choirs always perform using the call and response style. Each song is lead by a song leader picked by whoever knows the song the best. The leader will lead the group through the verses then the entire group naturally sings the chorus. When the Massai choirs sing it isn’t exclusively a performance, it is interactive. If you find a refrain particularly catchy it is likely that everyone will start singing along. Frequently ladies of the congregation will get up and dance or let out a trill of excitement. I think locals in the area are starting to recognize the importance these choirs are having on Christianity here. When we went to Waswahilli worship services the congregations always seemed to be inspired and filled with joy when a visiting children’s choir would perform.
People in Tanzania were poor but smile a lot. Some of our teachers didn’t have electricity or fans in their houses. I knew people that live on less then $5 per week. And it all seemed very normal at the time. I became friends with people in TZ and when I discovered more about their lives it just seemed like a natural thing that they don’t have much money. A lot of people wore the same shirt every day because it is the only one they had. And that seemed normal. Two of my language teachers asked for and received my sweatshirt and belt when I left. I have had multiple people ask if they can have my backpack and watch. I need my watch to wake up in the morning and my backpack to carry things in; otherwise I probably would have given them away.
It is a very natural thing for people to ask for things from you because you have more then them. There isn’t the awkward tension created by economic classes or the extreme drive to be “successful” as an individual. I think these two things take away some of the shame normally associated with asking people for material things because they have more then you. In Tanzania when someone asks you to give them something they own they respect that you have more then they and your right to decline. Giving a gift is just one of many ways individuals both benefit from being friends with each other. Being poor and happy is a tough concept for someone raised in a capitalist society to wrap their head around. Of course if people are starving because they are poor or are not able to afford hospital or schooling costs, then being poor is more than an inconvenience. Something that has been on my mind since TZ are the lyrics of the Notorious B.I.G., “Mo money, mo problems”. I just can’t figure out if this statement is true for Africa or even at all. I think with money comes different types of problems, not necessarily bigger ones. One thing is certain money doesn’t always mean happiness.

Reflecitons on death

•January 8, 2009 • 1 Comment

When I was studying abroad in Tanzania last semester death seemed much more real. There are a whole host of things that lower the life expectancy to forty including AIDS and malnutrition that allows disease to be more deadly. While I was in Tanzania I actually two people on the side of the road recently killed by cars on separate occasions. The first was laying face down with his head still on the road as bicycles and people passing by swerved to avoid the body that no longer held life. Cars were used to shield the second body from oncoming traffic, but as I glanced back after passing the barricade I was able to see his lifeless body. Those are images that will never leave me. It is hard to tell if the deaths were accidental or suicide. Either way I have been praying for the families of the people that have been killed and the motorists and struck them. Although I do not know them I shared a strangely personal moment with them at the scene of their death. During the time that I saw the two men dead at the side of the road I was taking Swahili lessons and learned the word kufa means to die and kufaa means to arrive. I think the two words probably started as the same words in their Bantu origin then grew distinct later in time. I think many Tanzanians view death not as an exit but an arrival, a beautiful way of looking at a normally finite topic.

Back in the USA

•December 15, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I am back safely in the US after 40 hours of travel. Everything went smoothly. I think return adjustment will be weirder then entry adjustment. I feel a little bit like i traveled to the future and am noticing things I didn’t pay much mind to before. Hopefully it doesn’t take me long to conquer jet lag. Thank you all for reading and commenting and praying and sharing this experience with me. Now if you have questions or just want to hear stories you we can see each other face to face and maybe share some ginger chai.

On my way

•December 11, 2008 • 2 Comments

i am excited to come back but anxious about noticing things about the U.S i didn’t notice before. things end and things begin. we often noticed the ends of things but rarely notice things changing.

We leave Dar at 11:30 our time (2:00 am US) have a short layover in Amsterdam then arrive in Minneapolis in the early afternoon. After a long layover and a turbo prop flight we will be in Waterloo around 6:30. Then a 2 hour drive back to Ankeny (for me). So basically 2 days of travel. See you all soon. God bless

Stegosaurus

•December 9, 2008 • 2 Comments

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We call these things stegosaurus bugs because they look like little dinosaurs. Rumor has it they hiss at you when you try to kill them. They are a very tough and intimidating bug and are pretty common around here.

We really aren’t doing much these days. The evangelist convention is going on, but we really aren’t required to attend much. We have the feeling if we tried to help we might end up getting in the way a bit. So we are just sitting back and soaking in the African climate so far this week. This evening we will go to the Indian couple’s house for supper. Should be good food and even better company. Their baby Katu had grown so much since we first got here. We watched him learn how to walk; it was pretty neat.

Pre Re-entry

•December 6, 2008 • 1 Comment

I think coming back to the U.S. is going to be a lot harder then I’ve anticipated thus far. I’ve heard a lot of people can’t even go into major stores for a while after visiting Africa because they are suffocated by all the stuff. We saw a mall at a distance in Dar es Salaam it looked entirely out of place and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It just seemed so strange. I think we have tried to immunize the oncoming shock by keeping up to date with American culture and news. I’m not sure it will do much though. Today as we made name tags for the Evangelist conference this week we tried hyping each other up about things we will do when we get home. A lot of them were just silly little things like playing video games, drinking tap water and playing guitar. It is going to be really weird saying goodbye to people this week as I really don’t know if I will return to Tanzania. Only God knows. Goodbyes in the Midwest seem trite sometimes because you will very likely run into the person again… this is different.

We watched Amistad tonight. I related more to the slaves then to the white people trying to get them their freedom in court.

Peter is still ajisikia mgonjwa. Literally hearing for himself sickness. In Swahili you hear or see sickness. It is malaria and he is on the road to recovery, but keep him in your prayers.

In Swahili there is no “should”. Either you did something or you didn’t.

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Luka had us over to his house Friday night. It might be the last time we see his family. It was a great time with amazing food. We all got a little choked up when he and his wife Eme said karibu tena (you are welcome again), because we knew that might not be so. Today his wife Emmy came down with both malaria and typhoid. Hopefully she has a speedy recovery

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I don’t know why Eme is making such a funny face. It was really dark in their house at this time, I am surprised this picture turned out, I could barely see who I was taking a picture of. Their family let us join in their nightly family devotions. It included a song and a wonderful prayer by luka. I left my camera on and have the small devotional on video. We used the light from my camera to read the text of the song. It is the song that we sing every time after worship services, but we are still rusty on the verses.